August 18, 2022

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Expansions In Jazz: Christian McBride

Christian McBride | photo courtesy of the artist

On this week’s episode of Expansions in Jazz, Julian Booker is joined by bass player Christian McBride. He and Julian discuss his early life growing up in Philadelphia, his long career in and beyond jazz — a career that includes six Grammy honors, and three albums that he released in 2020: The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons; his reunion with Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade, Roundagain; and his big band recording, For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

(text has been edited for length and clarity)

On growing up in Philadelphia:

“Philly, of course, is one of the cornerstones of the
world when it comes to the arts, specifically in music…I grew up in the
late-’70s through the ’80s sweet spot of Philadelphia: Teddy Pendergass, Patti
LaBelle, Pieces of a Dream, Grover Washington. I went to high school at CAPA
and my classmates were Joey DeFrancesco, Questlove, Black Thought, Boyz II Men,
Kurt Rosenwinkle, Amel Larrieux…my dad, Lee Smith, and my great uncle, Howard
Cooper, have been very important musicians on the Philly scene for a long time,
and my uncle, Tony McBride, Jr. (known as Butch to all of his friends and
family) ran promotions and advertising at WHAT. So I was surrounded by music my
whole childhood.”

On the musicians he played with in his late teens and early

“I really did learn a lot from all of them: Bobby
Watson, James Williams, Benny Golson. Freddie Hubbard was someone who was very
special to me. I always wanted to play with him. I saw him play at Penn’s
Landing when I was a sophomore in high school. What he played that night, the
energy coming off of the stage, it wasn’t dissimilar to the same energy I found
at an R&B concert, or a Gospel or Rock concert. He would play these lines
on the trumpet and the audience would just be screaming. So I always had a soft
spot for Freddie Hubbard. I loved his music, I loved the way he played. So
playing with him was a wonderful time for me. But, also, I feel the same exact
way about Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner…and then when I met Ray Brown, he became
like a second dad to me in many ways, so I was very fortunate to have him as a

On adapting to the type of music, and the musicians with
whom, he is playing:

“I can’t go play a gig with Sting, thinking ‘Ray
Brown.’ I have to play what the script calls for…we live in a culture that
really rewards individuality, but I sometimes believe that people take that out
of context…to me, it would seem more ‘genius’ that you could play with ten different
bands and actually learn the rules of all ten bands and serve the music on its
terms than having one style that you ‘do’ and just bogart it in all ten bands.
That to me is not genius. That’s individualism, but that’s the kind of
individualism that’s going to keep you not working. To me, being able to
play with anyone, that’s genius. And all the people who I’ve admired have been
able to do that.”

On his 2020 album The Movement Revisited: A Musical
Portrait of Four Icons
(recorded in 2013):

“[It’s music based around the words of Rosa Parks,
Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the victory speech of
Barack Obama in 2008]. I was very proud of The Movement Revisited. I was
hoping it could have come out sooner, but considering what is going on in our
country these days, unfortunately the content of The Movement Revisited will
never be out of date. No matter whoever is in government, on a state or a
federal level, there are certain things about the human condition that will
always have to be dealt with

On his work as an educator and jazz ambassador:

“When I was going to CAPA, when people like Max Roach,
Dr. Billy Taylor, Grover Washington, Jr., Ron Carter, Jimmy Heath or Bobby
Watson would come to Philly and give these masterclasses, that’s how I met a
lot of those great legends. Knowing what I know now about being on the road,
they didn’t have to do that. Looking back, they did not have to take time out
of their busy schedules and spend time talking with us. I thought, if I’m ever
in the same position where I can inspire some kid in elementary, middle or high
school to get into this music, I am so there. Taking an hour out of my busy day
to talk to some kids? That’s actually something I love doing. That’s not an
interruption of my day on any level.”

Tags: Christian McBride, Expansions In jazz

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